A perpetual profession behind closed doors

'God asked me to surrender everything'

Prostrated before the altar with her white dress, Lara Montoya pictured the saints in heaven rejoicing at this long-awaited moment. It was nothing like she had so often pictured in her mind – there was no cathedral, no bishop and no family members. Even then, nothing would rob her of the joy of finally fulfilling her deepest desire: giving herself entirely to Christ.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Montoya made her perpetual profession in a humble chapel located in a small town in Peru on Pentecost Sunday, surrounded by just a few community sisters.

Montoya – who, during her period of formation in the Marian Community of Reconciliation, spent 10 years in Denver serving in several ministries including Christ in the City and El Pueblo Católico – always imagined her profession at a church like Denver’s Cathedral Basilica, surrounded by family and friends in a Mass celebrated by a bishop, because such an important day needed a great preparation. But God had other plans. He decided to lead her down an unusual path of surrender that would prepare her for that day and show her how God always fulfills his promises.

The first surrender came only three weeks before the scheduled date of the ceremony. “My heart froze,” said Montoya, when she heard that Peru had ordered a lockdown due to the coronavirus. “Something I always asked God was for my parents to be present, and it seemed that wouldn’t be possible.”

A few days later, Peru ordered the closing of airports, which confirmed her fear. Soon she was also told she could only choose 20 people to attend. Thus, she had to surrender the desire of having many of her loved ones present at her profession.

Despite having to wait longer than anticipated and having a smaller ceremony than she’d hoped for, Lara Montoya still experienced profound joy as she made her perpetual vows to the Marian Community of Reconciliation on Pentecost Sunday. (Photos provided)

While it pained her to postpone the long-desired ceremony, she was relieved when it was finally rescheduled – her parents still had a chance to attend after all. However, that hope was short-lived as the situation worsened, and the second date was not postponed. Eventually she made her perpetual profession in the humble church located in the town that housed the community, without her family, friends and a bishop. This was the third surrender Jesus asked of her.

“When this happened, I felt so alone and I said, ‘Lord, what do you want from me? Why have you allowed this to be postponed for so long? What are you doing in my heart?’” Montoya said.

At that moment, she remembered a dream she had years ago when she was first praying about requesting admittance to perpetual profession. This prophetic dream would help her understand God’s Providence in all these events.

I was sadly sitting in a corner of this simple church when the Lord drew near me and tenderly asked me, ‘Lara, why are you so sad?’ I started whining: ‘Look at this simple church, I have no dress, there is no bishop, no one showed.’ So, he looked at me and said something that has pierced my soul to this day: ‘Why are you doing this, for all these things or for me?’”

“I dreamed I was writing the letter of request to my superior, and she told me, ‘You are accepted, but you must do it in three days.’ And I said, ‘What do I do now!’ I had no church, no dress, no ring, nothing,” Lara remembered. So, she had to find another priest and do it in her native town’s humble church. The worst part was that no one showed; after she made her profession, there was no one to congratulate her.

“I was sadly sitting in a corner of this simple church when the Lord drew near me and tenderly asked me, ‘Lara, why are you so sad?’ I started whining: ‘Look at this simple church, I have no dress, there is no bishop, no one showed,’” she recounted. “So, he looked at me and said something that has pierced my soul to this day: ‘Why are you doing this, for all these things or for me?’”

When Lara woke up, she knew she wasn’t ready to make her perpetual profession. “Those things still mattered too much to me,” she said. “And I’ve always been afraid of not giving Jesus a pure heart.” But she never imagined that this dream in many ways would become a reality. In the long years that followed, God would lead her through a path of suffering due to illness, Church scandals, and confusion, which she described as a process of “surrender after surrender.” This path would leave her with nothing other than the most profound and essential part: her desire to unite herself to Jesus.

“The heart is like an onion: the more you peel it, the more you discover the divine footprints in your soul. The Lord made me peel the onion,” she said with a smile. “That is how I was only left with the most important part.”

And this fact turned into immense joy, as Montoya’s smile testified on the day of her perpetual profession.

“Everything became clear on the day of my profession. The light of the Holy Spirit has allowed me to see my vocational journey under a new light,” she said. “On that day, I understood the great ‘why’: why he had made me wait for so long, not so much for the length of time, but because during that time everything was put to the test.

“And I reached this conclusion: the joy I felt on that day was so deep and great that I wouldn’t have experienced it in that way if I had not previously tasted the most bitter edges of my vocation.”

For this reason, she was able to say at the end of her profession: “I feel that today the Lord has fulfilled all his promises… And he has fulfilled mine in a very mysterious way.”

Montoya said of the day she made her perpetual vows: “The joy I felt on that day was so deep and great that I wouldn’t have experienced it in that way if I had not previously tasted the most bitter edges of my vocation.”

Her parents, family and friends weren’t there, but they were still able to watch the ceremony “from the first row” with more than a thousand people from around the world who joined the livestream.

She said a few words to the English speakers watching from Denver: “All of you are the fulfillment of the promises of the Lord,” she said, adding that in all the relationships she made in Denver, she gained “fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.”

“Lord, how much I desire to be an open book, a book that sings your wonders, a book at the disposal of others,” Montoya concluded, referring to the story of her life. “That whoever wishes may draw near to read your wonders and sing you songs of praise to you, because your mercy is great.”

In this way, with the longing to unite herself completely to Christ at the end of this life, Montoya realized that amid so many surrenders, God had transformed her for that day of her profession, in which the most essential part was present: Jesus himself and her ardent desire to fully surrender everything to him.

COMING UP: For Christ alone: Andrea Polito added to the Order of Virgins

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It was April 6, 2012—Good Friday—and 26-year-old Andrea Polito was doing what many Catholics do on that sacred day: She was praying at the foot of the cross.

The pediatric oncology nurse told Denver Catholic that she had an experience in prayer she can only describe as a “profound moment of grace.”

“I was looking at Mary Magdalene,” she recounted, “and I asked the Lord, ‘Why, of all the people that you healed in your ministry, is she the one who gets to be here?’”

“And he just really simply said,” she recalled, “‘because she gave up everything and followed me.’

“And I just kind of instinctually said in that moment, ‘That’s where I want to live, that’s where I want to be.’ And he said, ‘Well, come and follow me.’”

Polito said the prayer surprised her: “I was like, oh no, I think I just kind of told Jesus I was going to be a nun, and I kind of freaked out.”

Andrea Polito, 31, consecrated herself as a virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver during a powerful ceremony celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila on July 22. (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

But as she prayed more over the next weeks and months, she realized that what God was asking of her wasn’t to leave the world as a religious vocation would require: “I didn’t feel called to leave the world. I felt really convicted of my work, I felt really convicted of a Catholic presence in the medical field, which is such a secular place…. I didn’t feel peace about going and leaving all of that.”

Through conversations with a friend, Father John Nepil, who would later become her spiritual director, Polito began to consider the vocation of a lay consecrated virgin.

Prayerful discernment

The 20-something embarked on a serious period of discernment and prayer.

“Over those years we studied it, and I did a 30-day silent retreat and made an election, and talked to the diocese, and this was what made the most sense and [what] I felt most called to,” she said.

On July 22, nearly five and a half years after hearing the first invitation to follow Christ, and on the feast of her patron Saint Mary Magdalene, Polito was consecrated a virgin of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila celebrated the rite of consecration of a virgin in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, with more than 20 priests concelebrating the Mass.

“You are committing yourself permanently to the Lord, and giving yourself completely to him,” Archbishop Aquila told Polito during his homily. “If you truly want happiness and joy, you must belong to Christ, and he alone. This is the Lord’s deepest desire for you, Andrea, and for every Christian.” (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

The consecration of a virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and in the early Church, before religious orders existed, many women consecrated their virginity to the Lord to devote themselves full-time to evangelization.

The consecrated virgin lives in the midst of the world, in intimate union with God, offering the gift of her physical virginity to Christ as a sign of the total donation of her entire life to him.

There are approximately 3,000 consecrated virgins in the universal Church, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, including 235 in the United States. The Office of Consecrated Life for the Archdiocese of Denver reports that there are currently six consecrated virgins in northern Colorado, and two more women who are actively discerning.

‘A day of great joy’

The rite of consecration began with the calling of the candidate after the Gospel, at which time Polito, with candle in hand, approached the sanctuary as the choir sang: “Be wise: make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.”

The archbishop then delivered his homily, which he began by proclaiming that day as “a day of great joy.”

“You are committing yourself permanently to the Lord, and giving yourself completely to him,” he said. “If you truly want happiness and joy, you must belong to Christ, and he alone.

“This is the Lord’s deepest desire for you, Andrea, and for every Christian.”

After the homily, the archbishop examined Polito about her readiness to accept solemn consecration as a bride of Christ, and then, similar to the sacrament of holy orders and religious profession of vows, Polito lay prostrate while the congregation petitioned the saints to intercede.

Polito said that kneeling before the Archbishop during the Mass and “experiencing that I had a father in the diocese, and I was a daughter of the diocese was really beautiful.” (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

Polito then approached the archbishop, and placing her hands in his and addressing him as father, she offered her resolution to “follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity.”

The prayer of consecration was said by the archbishop, and then the newly consecrated received a volume of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as a ring, clearly symbolizing her mystical marriage to Christ.

Polito noted that a key moment of the consecration was when she was kneeling before the archbishop with her hands in his, “experiencing that I had a father in the diocese, and I was a daughter of the diocese was really beautiful.”

Called to Denver

Andrea, now 31, is a native of San Diego, California. She studied nursing at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and after college moved to Washington, DC, to begin working as a pediatric nurse.

She moved to Denver in 2010 without a job out of an interior conviction that she was supposed to live in Colorado. “It was a horrible decision at first,” she revealed, as it took her four months to find a job, and moving in the middle of winter was not easy for the California native.

“But the Lord definitely provided,” she said. “Obviously, I see in hindsight why God called me here. It was for the sake of this vocation. For the sake of the mission here in Denver.”

More than 20 priests concelebrated the Mass during which Andrea Polito, 31, consecrated herself as a virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver on July 22 in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

Listen to the Archbishop’s homily here: https://archden.org/andrea-polito-consecration/#.WYJjcYQrKV6

Below, you will find a summary of the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin.

RITE OF CONSECRATION OF A VIRGIN

Procession

The procession moves through the church to the altar in the usual way, while the choir and people sing the entrance song of the Mass. The candidate may join in the procession. It is appropriate for two women – either consecrated themselves or chosen from the laity – to accompany the candidate to the altar.

When she comes to the sanctuary, all make the customary reverence to the altar. The candidate takes her place in the pews and Mass continues.

Rite of Consecration

After the Gospel, if the consecration takes place in front of the altar, the bishop goes to the chair prepared for him and sits. If candles are used, the choir sings the following antiphon:

Be wise: make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

The candidate with her lamp or candle, and accompanied by the two women, approach the sanctuary and stand outside it.

Then the bishop calls the candidate; he sings or says aloud:

Come, listen to me, my children; I will teach you reverence for the Lord.

The candidate replies by singing this antiphon or some other appropriate song:

Now with all our hearts we follow you, we reverence you and seek your presence. Lord, fulfill our hope: show us your loving kindness, the greatness of your mercy.

As she sings the antiphon, the candidate enters the sanctuary so that everyone may have a complete view of the liturgical rites.

She places her candle in a candelabrum, or gives it to the ministers, until it is returned at the end of Mass. They she sits in the place prepared for her.

Homily

The bishop then gives a short homily to the candidate and the people on the gift of virginity and its role in the sanctification of those called to virginity and the welfare of the whole Church.

Examination

After the homily the candidate stands and the bishop questions her in these or similar words:

Bishop- Are you resolved to persevere to the end of you days in the holy state of virginity and in the service of God and his Church?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop- Are you so resolved to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel that your whole life may be a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop- Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop and all present- Thanks be to God

Invitation prayer

Then all stand, and the bishop, without his miter, invites the people to pray:

Dearly beloved, let us pray to God the almighty Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, he will pour out the Holy Spirit of his love on these servants of his whom he has chosen to be consecrated to his service.

Litany of the Saints

Then the bishop, the ministers, the candidate, and the people kneel (except during the Easter season, when all stand). Where it is customary for the candidate to prostrate herself, this may be done.

The cantors then sing the litany. At the proper place they may add the names of other saints who are specially venerated by the people, or petitions suitable to the occasion.

Then the bishop alone rises and, with hands joined, sings or says:

Lord, hear the prayers of your Church. Look with favor on your handmaids whom you have called in your love. Set them on the way of eternal salvation; may they seek only what is pleasing to you, and fulfill it with watchful care. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All- Amen.

Renewal of intention

Then, the candidate offers herself to God at the hands of the bishop.

She kneels, places her joined hands between his hands and says:

Father, receive my resolution to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity which, with God’s help, I here profess before you and God’s holy people.

Prayer of consecration

After the renewal of intention, the candidate returns to her place in the sanctuary and kneels. The bishop extends his hands over her, and sings or says the prayer of consecration.

Loving Father, chaste bodies are your temple; you delight in sinless hearts. Our nature was corrupted when the devil deceived our first parents, but you have restored it in Christ. He is your Word, through whom all things were made. He has made out nature whole again, and made it possible for mortal people to reflect the life of angels. Lord, look with favor an your handmaids. They place in your hands their resolve to live in chastity, You inspire them to take this vow; now they give you their hearts.

You have poured out your grace upon all peoples.
You have adopted as heirs of the new covenant
sons and daughters from every nation under heaven,
countless as the stars.
Your children are born, not of human birth,
nor of man’s desire, but of your Spirit.
Among your many gifts
you give to some the grace of virginity.
Yet the honor of marriage is in no way lessened.
As it was in the beginning,
your first blessing still remains upon this holy union.
Yet your loving wisdom chooses those
who make sacrifice of marriage
for the sake of the love of which it is the sign.
They renounce the joys of human marriage,
but cherish all that it foreshadows.

Lord, protect those who seek your help They desire to be strengthened by your blessing and consecration. Defend them from the cunning and deceit of the enemy. Keep them vigilant and on their guard; may nothing tarnish the glory of perfect virginity, or the vocation of purity which is shared by those who are married. Through the gift of your Spirit, Lord, give them modesty with right judgment, kindness with true wisdom, gentleness with strength of character, freedom with the grace of chastity. Give them the warmth of love, to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve our praise, without seeking to be praised. May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you; may they love you and serve you. Be yourself their glory, their joy, their whole desire. Be their comfort in sorrow, their wisdom in perplexity, their protection in the midst of injustice, their patience in adversity, their riches in poverty, their food in fasting, their remedy in time of sickness. They have chosen you above all things; may they find all things in possessing you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. All: Amen.

Presentation of the Ring

The ring marks her as a bride of Christ. Keep unstained your fidelity to her Bridegroom, that she may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy.

Presentation of the Liturgy of the Hours

The candidate receives the book of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church; may the praise of our heavenly Father be always on her lips; pray without ceasing for the salvation of the whole world.

Then the virgin says:

I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory.

The bishop concludes the rite:

The almighty Father has poured into your hearts the desire to live a life of holy virginity. May he keep you safe under his protection.

Amen.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, with whose sacred heart the hearts of virgins are united, fill you with his divine love.

Amen.

May the Holy Spirit, by whom the Virgin Mary conceived her Son, today consecrate your hearts and fill you with a burning desire.